One of the means of travel to Zambia from Tanzania, or vice versa, is via the TAZARA train service. TAZARA is an acronym for Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority. The train is a sweet 1,860km long single track railway that links Tanzanian’s metropolis and port city, Dar Es Salaam, with Kapiri Mposhi town in Zambia. There are two train options: the Kilimanjaro Ordinary train, serviced and managed by the Tanzania side, and the Mukuba Express train, maintained and operated by the Zambia side.
My friend and I drove to Zambia from Kenya and decided to take the train back to Tanzania because, adventure, and also, why not? People don’t usually go for trains because the journey can be slow and long but if you’re an adventurous spirit, who’s got time to kill, train rides should be one of your top travel options. They are more comfortable than buses, and where they lack in speed, they offer in stunning views.
We used the Kilimanjaro Ordinary train, which is, literally, the same train used in the colonial 70’s. It’s pretty dated in style and condition. I felt like I was in some form of a time capsule. On the other hand, The Mukuba Express train is newer, in comparison. It was introduced in 2016, and as the name suggests, it’s somewhat “Express,” that is, it makes fewer stops as compared to the Kilimanjaro Ordinary train.
Important Things To Note
Documentation: If you’re a Kenyan traveler, you only need a passport and a yellow fever certificate. You’ll only need this at the Tunduma/Nakonde border. Luckily, you don’t have to leave the train for immigration formalities. The immigration officers make their way to the train, which I found pretty convenient. They announce their arrival on the train, so you have to make sure you don’t miss them.
Schedule: The Kilimanjaro Ordinary train departs Dar Es Salaam for New Kapiri Mposhi every Tuesday to arrive on Thursday. It then leaves New Kapiri Mposhi for Dar Es Salaam every Friday to reach on Monday. We left Kapiri Mposhi on Friday afternoon and arrived in Dar Es Salaam on Monday morning.
Booking: It’s advisable to book your trip in advance. You can do this by either visiting the station and making the purchase, or by calling the number on their website. They do not have an online booking option. We didn’t get a chance to make a booking in advance since it was a spontaneous decision to use the train. We, therefore, booked it on the same day of travel. I would advise against following this route because we almost missed it as it was almost fully booked. We were just lucky. We went there pretty early, too, which swayed the odds sort of in our favor. The train leaves at 2 p.m., but we were there at 10 p.m. to ensure we do not miss a seat. Although, we did get a just desert of not getting an empty first-class cabin from Kapiri Mposhi. We had to wait for some passengers to get off on the way in Serenje. Meanwhile, we had to share a cabin with random strangers. It was bearable though.
Cost: It costs ZMK 278 (US$28) per person sharing for the first class cabin. So if you’re getting the entire first class cabin, you’ll have to pay for the value of four occupants at approximately USD$112 for travel only. Cost for food and beverages is separate and is purchased in the train. Cash is paid in ZMK-Zambian Kwacha.
Getting in and out of the station(s): The train station in Zambia is in Kapiri Mposhi town, and we were coming from Lusaka City, which is about 4 hours away, so we had to take a 5 a.m. bus to get us to Kapiri Mposhi in good time. From the station, you can take a taxi for about ZMK 20 (US$2) to get you to the actual train station. It’s a short few minutes away. When you arrive at the Dar Es Salaam station, there are many means of transport, from taxis to motorcycles, to get you to your desired location.
Duration: It’s meant to take about two days, i.e., 48 hours. It took us about 62 hours. Therefore, expect delays.
Facilities: The train has a basic restaurant/bar, clean toilets/showers, clean compartments, and beddings (warm blankets, sheets, and pillowcases.) The first class and second class have cabins which have four and six bunk beds respectively. The third class has an option of either one personal seat or shared seating. As I mentioned, it’s an old train, so some of the facilities are a tad bit run down. The bunk beds were reasonably comfortable, but the fans weren’t in good working condition.
Currency exchange: My advice is to change your cash before you board the train. That is, both Tsh (Tanzania shillings), and ZMK. However, the brokers do come into the train at the borders for money exchange but the rate may not be favorable, and since you’re in a weaker negotiation position of having no other option, you’ll have to pay the price.
Security: In general, I found it quite secure. There are several armed security guards who patrol the train throughout the trip. Nevertheless, you should be on your guard. Always lock windows and berth when you’re not around.
Food: The chefs on the way to Dar Es Salaam were mostly Tanzanians. Therefore, the meals they prepared had a Swahili feel. It was quite affordable with US$4 getting you a decent meal. I would advise you to carry snacks and water. Otherwise, you will have to wait until they make stops and buy from the vendors.
Sim Cards: We had both Tanzania and Zambia sim cards, which we had purchased in the respective countries beforehand. Although, the network isn’t very stable for most of the journey.
Charging: Please note that the train doesn’t have charging ports in the compartments. You can only charge in the restaurant area. You and a whole lot of other people, so I’d recommend having a power bank. Additionally, be friendly to the staff, and you’ll get your stuff charged when everyone is sleeping.
I found the train station in Kapiri Mposhi a bit chaotic and lacked somewhat of a structure. There was just so much going on, but it was fun to watch.
I would recommend getting into the first or second class cabins if you can. Also, the third class area did not seem at all comfortable in seats and in just the general ambiance for how long the journey is.
Remember to keep your ticket safe throughout the journey because you’ll have to surrender it at the final destination.
Apart from carrying snacks, carry toiletries including tissues as it’s not provided.
If you’re traveling as a couple or friends of the opposite sex, please note that the compartments are single sex. Meaning, men, and women are not allowed to sleep in the same compartments in both the first and second class cabins. So if you want to be in the same cabin, you have to book the whole cabin. If you’re a big group, you can bring board games, some drinks, and have yourselves a jolly good time.
I found it to be an excellent mode of travel. I loved the white noise movement of the train. It made for a good nights’ sleep. I would definitely use it again, especially the Mukuba Express train just so that I can see if there is a recognizable difference between the two in duration and overall comfort.
Have you used the TAZARA train before? How was your experience? Let me know in the comments. As always, if you have any questions regarding this trip, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I am more than happy to help where I can.